Since their honeymoon with EMI Records ended in the early 1980s, Iron Maiden have, broadly speaking, done whatever they pleased. The returns of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith late last century allowed them more freedom still, and the ‘new’ six-man Maiden have brought their progressive rock influence closer to the surface than ever before. Since a reunion forged with 2000’s aptly titled Brave New World they have routinely buccaneered through seven-, eight- and nine-minute pieces.
For those of us that appreciate prog rock every bit as much as metal, and who cite 1988’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son among Maiden’s defining moments, this was a very good thing. However, you can’t please all the people all the time, and when Dickinson chipped in last time with an 18-minute epic called Empire Of The Clouds, followers brought on board decades ago by the economic immediacy of The Trooper, Run To The Hills and Flight Of Icarus could be excused for raising their eyes to the sky.
For those who occupy the latter category yet found their interest piqued by its quirkily atypical first video, The Writing On The Wall, new album Senjutsu (loosely translated from Japanese as ‘tactics and strategy’) will likely provide more pleasure than 2015’s overly cumbersome The Book Of Souls.
Senjutsu is another double set, again with a playing time of more than 80 minutes, and none of its ten selections last for anything less than four minutes. The second disc comprises just four tracks, three of which – Death Of The Celts, The Parchment and Hell On Earth – clock in at more than 10, 12 and 11 minutes respectively. They are likely to cause fans of Maiden’s proggier side to lose their minds.
The naysayers who bemoan what they see as the messy production style of Kevin Shirley will still pine for the late, great Martin ‘Headmaster’ Birch and his pristine clarity, although a large number of plus points by far outweigh all such minuses. Bruce Dickinson’s air-raid-siren vocal delivery remains inhumanly good, and as the album begins with Senjutsu’s eight-minute title track, with waves of rolling drums and interlocking guitars, it’s difficult not to marvel at Iron Maiden’s sheer sense of scope.
This is a remarkable album from a band that still has plenty to say and to offer. Its high point, Death Of The Celts, a fruity 10-minute-plus guitar showcase for the Three Amigos that could be the Iron Maiden equivalent of Thin Lizzy’s celebrated Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend, is little short of jaw-dropping.